Ian Desmond is 2-for-2 with a home run today, but the league has announced that he’ll sit out the All-Star Game and be replaced by Braves center fielder Michael Bourn.
Desmond, who leads all shortstops with 16 home runs this season, has been nursing a strained left oblique for three weeks and decided the rest would do him some good. Since he doesn’t quite have the same profile as Derek Jeter, he can get away with it without catching too much flak.
With Desmond gone, there was another chance to get Bryce Harper on to the NL All-Star team. It would have been replacing a National with another National. However, the league went with Bourn instead. He has been the better player; he’s arguably the NL’s best defensive center fielder and he’s hitting .305/.360/.448 with 23 steals this season.
Another option would have been Jed Lowrie, a shortstop who has been essentially Desmond’s equal with the bat this season. The NL, though, still has two shortstops on the roster with Desmond out and it won’t hurt to have another true center fielder with Matt Kemp absent.
In an age in which even baseball’s richest teams talk about tight budgets and keeping payroll low, it’s pretty rare to hear anyone connected with a front office talking about freely spending money. Phillies owner John Middleton, however, offered up something rare about the team’s approach to free agency.
“We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it,” he told Bob Nightengale or USA Today. He then added, “we just prefer not to be completely stupid.” That save aside, it was a pretty unusual sentiment these days.
“Stupid” could certainly mean Bryce Harper, who the Phillies have long been expected to pursue. It could even mean Harper and Manny Machado. Why not? At the moment the Phillies’ payroll for 2019 is looking to be just a shade above $100 million, so even adding, say, $70 million to that would not put them in an unreasonable position compared to other competitors. And that’s before you figure in any sort of back-loading or deferred money that Harper and/or Machado might agree to.
Or, even if they didn’t get one or both of those guys, they could spend that same kind of money on multiple free agents. Patrick Corbin? Marwin Gonzalez? A handful of others? We counted down the top 100 free agents last week and any number of them could be acquired given the sort of payroll flexibility a large market team like the Phillies appear to have. It merely requires the will to do it. A will which, it seems, John Middleton possesses.